Saigon is Vietnam’s melting pot and economic capital. For many reasons, it’s a tasty proposition for the food and beverage industry to serve. For CEO Taku Tanaka and his technology-enabled team at KAMEREO, it’s an industry that poses a large challenge that few have solved. Many venue owners still rely on manual, inefficient systems for purchasing and sourcing, given the antiquity of the supply chain and logistics system in Vietnam.
Taku Tanaka, CEO and Founder of KAMEREO, has learned first-hand about these challenges as the former chief operating officer of Pizza 4P’s.
Taku founded KAMEREO, a B2B platform for restaurants to source and procure product, with the hopes of solving these challenges. Using technology to automate processes in the current labor-intensive and inefficient model, KAMEREO seeks to reduce labor cost with transparency and accuracy.
After launching in June 2018, the platform raised a seed round from Velocity Ventures Vietnam and Japan’s Genesia Ventures to accelerate expansion.
How has someone like Taku, an American-educated Japanese expat, steered a fast-growing startup in Vietnam? We meet with him at KAMEREO’s headquarters in Saigon to understand more about the platform and hear from him first-hand about his personal management style, KAMEREO’s team culture, and company identity.
What are three words that would describe your management style?
I try to focus on management that has vision, trust in delegating, and to always operate with core values.
Who has been the most influential in your career?
One of my university classes I took was with a professor named Heizo Takenaka, who worked in the cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. During his time there, he worked under the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications and the Minister of State for Privatization of the Postal Services.
But beyond his impressive line of work, what inspired me so much from Professor Takenaka are the many stories and insights he was able to share during lectures. The man always reminded us to ask the question, “What is the problem?”, to which I eventually started asking for myself everyday at work. Whatever tasks or projects I am assigned to, I now consider this question when I tackle them.
Describe your ideal hire.
The typical hire is always about skills and experiences. However, these can always be trained. Thus, at KAMEREO, we’d like to focus more on the mindset of the individual, something that’s within and very difficult to change.
As long as the candidate stands out in terms of his or her way of thinking, we believe they would be a great addition to the team. For this reason, many of our employees are recent graduates; they work incredibly hard and are even part of our core team members.
What is one advice you would give to someone starting out in a management position?
Manage yourself first. Whenever I made a mistake in communicating, I get personally stressed out, which interferes with our communications too. You can not control other people, but you can try to control yourself.
What do you find most difficult about your job?
Considering that the industry is still dependent on manual processes, the road towards automation is still rocky and will take time. People aren’t willing to change their habits. But once they start implementing technology to their operations, I believe it will change their lives. They wouldn’t want to go back to manual processes. Moreover, as everyone has access to the Internet nowadays, I believe digitization is the direction we’re moving toward.
When do you give up on difficult employees?
It’s difficult to tolerate repetitive mistakes, excuses, and passing blame on others. It’s understandable to see a mistake made once, as then we expect to see the person learn from it. And as we work as a team, we need people who are constantly pushing themselves to be better. But if a person prefers to use excuses or to blame, I don’t think there’s any room for improvement in that.
How do you establish a healthy company culture?
I believe in transparency and trust within the company, hence why I share as much of the same information as possible to all of our team members that I do with our investors.
How often do you think about long-term goals?
Every weekend, I take some time to think about long term strategy; my weekdays are for meetings and my weekends are for thinking. Hence, the weekend is a really important time to refresh my mind and plan for the long run.
Do you see yourself in Vietnam in 20 years?
When I started university, I never thought I would go to the US to study. When I graduated from university, I never thought I would go to Vietnam to work. When I moved to Vietnam, I never thought I would start my own startup.
There were many things I never knew I would do, so I don’t know if I would be in Vietnam after 20 years. However, I can say that I still would like to do something connected to Vietnam. There still aren’t a lot of Japanese startup founders in Vietnam, so I still want to show the world how potential Vietnam is, especially how great Vietnam is to Japanese, if possible.